Pastors and the SCOTUS Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

June 29, 2015

Friday, June 26 was a tragic day for our culture, but it was a fantastic day to have the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians have resurrection faith that cannot be legislated away by the Supreme Court. Our responsibility to love our neighbor (Matt 22:39) and to seek the welfare of the city (Jer 29:7) where the providence of God has placed us demands that we acknowledge that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is an assault on societal good and human flourishing in our land. The SCOTUS’s decision to redefine marriage is the most significant culturally damning moment in our nation since Roe v. Wade.

 As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissent, the decision of the majority rejects the rights of states to uphold the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history. The result will not be an expansion of the definition of marriage but rather a redefinition of marriage that is so expansive that the only logical boundary is merely that it involve consenting adults. Chief Justice Roberts notes,

Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of mar­riage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradi­tion, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex mar­riage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

Make no mistake; with the legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage now the law of the land, every church in America will be forced to clarify where it stands. We are no longer discussing hypotheticals, but rather, we are facing realities. Many will capitulate and find that, in an attempt to save their congregations and Christianity itself, they lost it. Nominal Christianity will be a causality of the cultural marginalization of Christians and Christian ethics and to that we should say, “Good riddance.” But, we must be clear to our congregations that ground zero in facing the cultural challenges ahead related to the SCOTUS decision is not the White House, Supreme Court, or the halls of Congress; rather, it is the same place it has always been—the church house. The church is the only institution that Jesus promised, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” (Matt 16:18).

Shepherds of local churches must lead their congregations toward a cruciform response to this tragic cultural decision. Pastor, do not face this situation with self-pity or mealy-mouthed platitudes; an occasion such as this is reason they call you pastor. Give them the gospel. And by them I mean yourself, your congregation, our friends who are embracing the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the culture, the politicians, and everyone else too. Be the one person who does not forget that ultimately this situation, and every situation, is to be summed up in Christ and his gospel (Eph 1:10). Giving them the gospel also means unapologetically preaching and teaching a biblical view of marriage, an institution whose existence is for the purpose of reflecting the gospel (Gen 2, Eph 5). Our cultural opponents on this issue are not our enemies; they are our mission field. We will not win them by compromising biblical truth, but neither will we win them by despising them.

Though we should weep that this decision will wreak societal havoc and amount to government sanctioned self-sabotage of its own citizens, there is a sense in which our task as Christians is not one ounce more difficult than it has ever been. We have always been involved in a mission that is beyond our ability. None of us has the power to raise the dead. None of us can heal the sick. None of us can make the blind see. None of us can save the lost. We are but instruments of the Almighty. Jesus is Lord we are not. But, Jesus is Lord and the arc of redemptive history bends toward the one who is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in him (Rom 3:26). If our pastors and churches sound like we are on the losing side of history, then we have lost far more than a Supreme Court decision.

Many discouraged believers will want to respond with bitterness and animosity, and pastors must remind them that those are not fruits of the Spirit. Congregational shepherds must also recognize that the sky-is-falling religious/political charlatan prophets of doom will see this as an entrepreneurial opportunity to capitalize on Christian outrage to build their mailing lists. We must remind our congregations that Christians ought to be the last people to fall prey to doom and gloom hopeless theology because the tomb is still empty and a court decision redefining marriage will not redefine “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). Sin, even legally protected sin, does not bring satisfaction. Paul reminds us that if we are faithful to preach the gospel, we will be able to speak to our congregations in the future and say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

In Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion, he wrote:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.

We should be thankful for this statement but sober about it as well. Essentially, he is saying that they will tolerate us as a strange prophetic minority—for now. We know that this promise may not last. But, if it does not last, we must remind our churches of our brother Paul who stated that his unjust imprisonment “served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12), and if we are faithful and the time comes, the same can be true of us. Pastors need to clarify church policies regarding for whom they will and will not perform a wedding ceremony and whom they will allow to use their building for a wedding ceremony. These policies need to be clear, in writing, and congregationally affirmed. Meaningful membership and willingness to do congregational church discipline will be vital as we move ahead. Faithful shepherds will prepare their congregations in advance to respond in a gospel-centered way for the inevitable visit from a same-sex legally married couple. “If the government says its okay, what can we do?” is not a gospel response but neither is “Get out.”

In other words, we must shepherd our congregations to be the church. We must be intentional about things we should have been intentional about all along. Peter wrote to a group of governmentally and culturally persecuted believers he described as “elect exiles” (1 Pet 1:1). They were looked upon with suspicion because of their commitment to Jesus the Christ and accused of hatred and treated as social outcasts. Peter reminds them of the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glories (1 Pet 1:11) and then teaches them that they will experience the same pattern (1 Pet 4:13, 5:1). Then, he concludes by simply exhorting the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Pet 5:2). Pastor, that is the need of this hour.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24